As we understand the principle that priesthood is an order, and an order is a pattern, we can begin to unfold the ascending patterns of Melchizedek Priesthood. When we fulfill a pattern, we are of that order, and this is how we understand the nature of the priesthood in which we in reality participate.
The definition of priesthood is not power. Even though it has power associated with it, it is not a power in and of itself. There is no cosmic power that is exclusively considered “priesthood”. However, the patterns we fulfill according to the order of God can endow us with power of heaven depending on to what degree and what patterns we are actually choosing to follow.
Within the Melchizedek priesthood there are many different patters that build on each other until you fulfill the pattern of what Joseph Smith called the “fullness of the priesthood”. Until you come into a fullness, more than likely you are fulfilling a portion of the priesthood, or a sub-order of it.
“All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it” (- Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 180)
As you fulfill all of the patterns and conditions you are eventually brought into a fullness of the order of the Melchizedek Priesthood. But the bottom line is, you can be ordained and introduced into the Melchizedek Priesthood but not be participating at all in the necessary forms of what the scriptures call “Melchizedek Priesthood”. Usually, when the scriptures refer to the Melchizedek, or Higher, Priesthood it is referring to its full pattern and order. And herein lies the confusion: being ordained to the priesthood does not mean you possess anything beyond an ordination. It does not mean you have power or even rights to power. It means that you are being introduced into an order in which there are many patterns that you are expected to fulfill.
The scriptures suggest three general portions – patterns, or sub-orders of priesthood. In other words, you can receive a portion of the priesthood, enter into a “sub-order” or a partial order, in preparation to a fullness of the priesthood.
The confusion around the doctrine of the priesthood is that we don’t know how to talk about the preparatory orders of the Melchizedek Priesthood. When it is discussed or taught, it is treated as a monolithic thing that you either have, or don’t have. And if you have it, it is assumed, that you have all of it. But this creates confusion because our experience of the priesthood rarely matches the promises and powers discussed in scripture.
When we discuss Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthood I think it is helpful to map it against the three degrees of glory. The doctrine of the priesthood as taught in the scriptures seems to elegantly match this structure. Each degree has a pattern and rites and powers associated with it. As we explore these three degrees I hope it becomes clear how to ascend in the priesthood and fulfill the order into which God is calling us.
The Telestial Order of Priesthood: Being Called and Ordained
First, what exactly does it mean to be called, chosen, and sealed? In order to understand Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial portions of priesthood we must have clarity on all of these scriptural terms. When we understand them, it becomes strikingly clear that they map to each other.
To be called in the priesthood means you receive an ordination. The ordination is the calling. It is an invitation into an order. Priesthood is not “bestowed” through an ordination of the laying on of hands; it is an extended invitation. It is a call to enter into a pattern – to become part of an order.
Joseph Smith made this clear when he received Section 95.
But behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many who have been ordained among you, whom I have called but few of them are chosen.D&C 95: 5
Ordination is an outward ordinance. It is a physical event on earth that follows a heavenly pattern. By itself, it bestows no power or spiritual authority. The rights with this order is that those who receive the ordination are now authorized to perform physical ordinances and physical rites. There is no guarantee of spiritual power and no right to receive anything from heaven. One is just authorized to officiate in the outward ordinances of the priesthood.
Being called is the Telestial order of the priesthood. It just gives you rights to officiate in physical ordinances in a Telestial sphere. Those ordinances that are performed in the Telestial sphere stay with the earth and have no power in heaven unless the higher portions of those ordinances are also completed and received (to be discussed more fully later).
When someone is ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood it means they are “called”. This is the same use of the word called as when the Lord says, “many are called, but few are chosen”. Ordination equals calling.
What is the pattern of this priesthood? The pattern is that you are called after the manner the Lord has revealed: an authorized priesthood holder places their hands on your head and ordains you to both the priesthood and an office. That is it. If you have received that ordination you then have the right to act in that office in the physical, outward ordinances.
Pattern: Receive an ordination through the laying on of hands – you receive an invitation
Order: Called to the Priesthood
Rights and Power: You have the rights to officiate in the outward ordinances
At risk of confusing the issue, one way of thinking about it is is that you have an “Aaronic Portion” of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Just as the Aaronic Priesthood has the right to officiate in outward ordinances, this is the the right that you receive when you are ordained to the priesthood. Do you have more power than just being able to perform outward Melchizedek ordinances? No, you don’t. It is not an endowment of power, nor does it mean heaven sustains your works or will give you special heavenly authority. All you have is the right to officiate in the outward ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Those ordinances are recorded on earth and are only binding on earth. It has no binding power in heaven.
Being introduced into God’s Holy Order of priesthood by the laying on of hands is his ordained channel. It is the Lord’s prescribed pattern. If you fulfill the pattern you enter into a Telestial order of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
It is a great blessing to be invited into the order of the Holy Priesthood of God. But we should be careful not to confuse an ordination into priesthood with priesthood power. As mentioned earlier, there is no such thing as priesthood power as a cosmic force in and of itself. Power comes by virtue of the pattern you fulfill, and one is ordained they have no power, only the right to officiate in outward ordinances.
In the telestial order of being called to the priesthood and having the authorization to officiate in outward ordinances the worthiness or spiritual preparedness of an individual is not a governing factor of exercising this order of priesthood. When the pattern you fulfill has only spiritual authority to perform an outward ordinance, the spiritual preparation and worthiness of the individual does not have an effect on whether or not this order of the priesthood is being fulfilled.
To receive power one must move from being called, to being chosen. Unfortunately many are ordained, but few are chosen.
Terrestrial Order of the Melchizedek Priesthood: Becoming Chosen and Elect
The covenant of the priesthood is the New and Everlasting Covenant. They are one in the same. There is no difference. All of the covenants and oaths of the priesthood are the same as the New and Everlasting Covenant.
Just as water baptism by itself is an outward telestial ordinance and covenant, it is a sign that is made to God that one has received a remission of sins (D&C 20: 37).
When one receives a baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, they are sanctified and fulfill the the full requirements of a complete baptism – they are both baptized of water and the Holy Ghost.
A baptism of the Holy Ghost means you have repented completely and have received a remission of sins, and have also received the full sanctifying blessings of the Holy Ghost. When one receives the baptism of fire they receive an endowment from heaven. It is a blessing bestowed directly from heaven (and also through servants on earth that have received the power to do so). The sanctification of the Holy Ghost sanctifies you according to the law and knowledge which you have received, and as one receives greater and higher laws they must continued to be sanctified in higher degrees until their spirit and flesh are completely sanctified and enter into the presence of God. When a young child is baptized and are prepared sufficiently they receive a baptism of fire according to their knowledge and the (very little) sin which is in them. The experience of being baptized by fire is as dramatic as the need to have the natural man burned out of them.
When one is baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost they have the spiritual and physical experience of becoming a new creature in Christ (Mosiah 27: 26). They become born again (Mosiah 27: 25; Alma 5: 49; Alma 7: 14). They put off the natural man and become quickened in the inner man. There is a spiritual transformation. When a person enters into and endures in this state they possess the Gift of the Holy Ghost. While in this sanctified state and as a possessor of the Holy Ghost they become prepared to administer in spiritual things. They enter into the Terrestrial order of the Holy Priesthood.
Being born again and a new creature in Christ puts you in the state of living a Terrestrial law and order. As you do so the power of Holy Ghost becomes the authority by which priesthood is operated. You move from the state of being called, to a state of being chosen/elect.
There has been a day of calling, but the time has come for a day of choosing; and let those be chosen that are worthy.
And it shall be manifest unto my servant, by the voice of the Spirit, those that are chosen; and they shall be sanctified(D&C 105: 35-36)
The Holy Ghost is the authority of the Terrestrial order of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
The complete sanctification of the Holy Ghost is what makes an individual “worthy”. As a new creature in Christ, born again, sanctified from all sin, one is prepared to act under the influence of the Holy Ghost to bless and administer and perform priesthood ordinances that produces actual heavenly power.
Consider the following scriptural examples.
Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him (D&C 20: 60).
And after this manner did they ordain priests and teachers, according to the gifts and callings of God unto men; and they ordained them by the power of the Holy Ghost, which was in them (Moroni 3: 4).
The Holy Ghost is the power by which one is actually ordained. Ordination in this sense is to have both the calling and chosen portions bestowed upon someone. It is the ability to bestow a heavenly power or gift. It is to bestow an endowment of power.
When the disciples were given power to give others the Holy Ghost in 3 Nephi, the Lord gave them specific instructions. Consider carefully the following admonition:
“The words of Christ, which he spake unto his disciples, the twelve whom he had chosen, as he laid his hands upon them—
And he called them by name, saying: Ye shall call on the Father in my name, in mighty prayer; and after ye have done this ye shall have power that to him upon whom ye shall lay your hands, ye shall give the Holy Ghost; and in my name shall ye give it, for thus do mine apostles.
Now Christ spake these words unto them at the time of his first appearing; and the multitude heard it not, but the disciples heard it; and on as many as they laid their hands, fell the Holy Ghost”(Moroni 2: 1-3)
Even thought the disciples received a marvelous endowment in the presence of Christ, they were still instructed to call upon the name of the Father in mighty prayer to receive authorization and power to give someone else the Holy Ghost. Their ordination was not sufficient to bestow a spiritual endowment, they had to receive the consent of heaven on a case-by case basis.
This may seem simple, but we should all be reminded that the gifts of healing, casting out devils, prophesy, revelation, discernment are all gifts of the spirit given to those that receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. If we understand that receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is the authorizing power of the priesthood this all begins to make sense. Again, the New and Everlasting Covenant is also the covenant of priesthood. When you receive the gift of the Holy Ghost you are fulfilling a priesthood pattern and therefore entering a priesthood order.
The power of the Priesthood for the vast amount of people who are brought into the order is the Gift of the Holy Ghost. We receive it as we fulfill the conditions or pattern that it is governed by, and thereore we become of a terrestrial order of the priesthood.
It is this order and pattern that is being referred to in the amazing priesthood doctrine that is outlined in D&C 121.
We learned in D&C 95 that ordination means calling. And many are called and not chosen, and they walk in darkness at noon day. How do we become Chosen? By receiving the power and gift of the Holy Ghost. By becoming born again. They we receive the power of heaven.
“Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—
That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness (D&C 121: 34-36).
The revelation then goes to drive a further distinction:
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true (this is ordination); but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (vs. 37).
When the spirit is withdrawn the authority of the priesthood is removed.
The Holy Ghost is the power of the priesthood. It is not a separate cosmic power. When one fulfills the conditions (and pattern) of becoming born again they fulfill the conditions and pattern of priesthood. They begin to receive the gifts of the spirit. These are priesthood powers. They are after the order of the Son of God. Gifts of the spirit are gifts of the priesthood.
Pattern: Exercise mighty faith unto repentance so that the Holy Ghost transforms your nature to become a new creature in Christ. Receive a baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. Become sanctified from all sin.
Order: Become the chosen and elect of God. Elect in the Priesthood
Rights and Power: You have the power and gift of the Holy Ghost. Gifts of the Spirit
Ordinations and Offices
At this point the reader may be asking questions about the need and purpose of ordinations and offices in the priesthood. The question may be asked, “If a person is received into the priesthood when they are born again and receive the covenants and ordinances of the gospel, what is the purpose of being ordained to the priesthood and into an office?”
Remember that priesthood has various orders and portions to it. Offices of the priesthood are all appendages to it. In other words, no office is higher than the priesthood itself. Offices and ordinations are assignments within the priesthood, not the priesthood itself.
Doctrine and Covenants section 107 makes this distinction.
All other authorities or offices in the church are appendages to this priesthood.D&C 107: 5
“It is a precept of the Church that women of the Church share the authority of the Priesthood with their husbands, actual or prospective; and therefore women, whether taking the endowment for themselves or for the dead, are not ordained to specific rankin the Priesthood. Nevertheless, there is no grade, rank, or phase of the temple endowment to which women are not eligible on an equality with men.” Talmage, House of the Lord (1912 ed.), 94 (emphasis added)
“There is no office growing out of this priesthood that is or can be greater than the priesthood itself. It is from the priesthood that the office derives its authority and power. No office gives authority to the priesthood. No office adds to the power of the priesthood. But all offices in the Church derive their power, their virtue, their authority, from the priesthood. If our brethren would get this principle thoroughly established in their minds, there would be less misunderstanding in relation to the function of government in the church than there is. ” (Teachings of Presidents of th Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 168).
“The priesthood is greater than any of its offices. No office adds any power, dignity, or authority to the priesthood. All offices derive their rights, prerogatives, graces, and powers from the priesthood.” Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 595.
Offices in the priesthood serve purposes and are organized to provide functions – they are not the priesthood itself. They are orders within the priesthood.
When a male is ordained to the priesthood he is ordained to an office. No one is ordained to the just the priesthood, it always accompanies an office. Offices are purposeful for the service and administration of both priesthood government and for the specific ministrations of the work of God. Even though they are critical and purposeful, offices and ordinations are appendages to the priesthood, they are not the priesthood itself.
Celestial Order of the Melchizedek Priesthood: Sealed Up to Eternal Life
When one discusses the power, authority, and privileges of the Melchizedek Priesthood it is most often the Celestial order of the priesthood that is being referenced.
The ability to command elements, to be sealed to a spouse, to bind on heaven and on earth, and to transcend this earth come from the full reception of the priesthood as one is sealed up to eternal life and receives a fullness of the priesthood from the mouth of God.
The purpose of the priesthood is to bring someone into the presence of God while in the flesh. The full purpose of all of the preparatory covenants, and orders is to bring a person into a full redemption in the flesh. It is the power and order through which you receive the Second Comforter.
When one enters into the Terestrial order of the priesthood one receives the blessing of the First Comforter. As one proves that they will be faithful in all things and proceeds to become sanctified by all of the laws, covenants, and knowledge that the Lord endows them with through the Holy Ghost, they are prepared to receive the Second Comforter. It is through the blessings of the Second Comforter that a full endowment of priesthood is received.
More than being a requirement for a fullness of the Priesthood, the Second Comforter blessings are the purpose for the priesthood. If we are not seeking these blessings we are not seeking to fulfill the calling of our priesthood.
The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—
To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.D&C 107: 18-19
It is this level of priesthood that is being referenced in the the 13th chapter of Alma. The high priests in this priesthood are those that have fulfilled the celestial order of the priesthood. When Moses sought to sanctify the children of Israel he was preparing them to be brought into the presence of the Lord while in the flesh. He was preparing them to enter into the Melchizedek Priesthood. Because they feared and wanted Moses to go on their behalf the power and privileges of the higher order was removed from them.
“But [the Children of Israel] hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory” (D&C 84: 24).
The “rest” referred to is entering into a fullness of glory while in mortality. Consider then the power and pattern fulfilled by the high priests described in Alma chapter 13.
“And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest…
Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.
And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest.” (Alma 13: 6; 12-13).
These high priests are after the order described in Genesis 14 JST. Although a calling to the priesthood comes through ordination, the endowment of the fullness of the priesthood in the Celestial order comes by the mouth of God. It is a direct and personal call.
Now Melchizedek was a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire.
And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch,
It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God;
And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name.
For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course;
To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world.
And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven.
And now, Melchizedek was a priest of this order; therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the Prince of peace(Genesis 14: 26-33 JST)
The scriptures that we have inherited is a record of prophets that have ascended into this order. One of the great examples is Nephi in the Book of Helaman. We have the record of Nephi receiving the sealing power directly from the mouth of God.
“Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.
Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people.
Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people.
And thus, if ye shall say unto this temple it shall be rent in twain, it shall be done.
And if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou cast down and become smooth, it shall be done.
And behold, if ye shall say that God shall smite this people, it shall come to pass” (Helaman 10: 3-7).
Pattern: Receive the priesthood directly from the mouth of God
Order: Sealed to eternal life and are high priests of the church of the firstborn
Rights and Power: Bind on earth and heaven, sealing power, power over elements, translation
When we understand the orders of the priesthood and how to become endowed with power according to what patterns we fulfill we can pursue intentionally to ascend into a fullness of priesthood. We won’t confuse an ordination with a fullness of priesthood, and we will begin to focus on being consumed in the Holy Ghost understanding that until we are brought into the presence of the Lord this is the power by which we operate.