One of the greatest blessing of heaven given to the Latter-Day Saints are the keys of the priesthood. Can we praise God enough in gratitude and humility for the blessing of priesthood? It is by the keys of the priesthood that we are able to turn out hell and make a heaven on earth. It should be on our minds always the great endowment of keys he has given us and for the blessing of unlocking the heavens.
What will we do with these gifts? Will we use these keys for the salvation of our families and friends, or will we allow them to rust? If we are to claim these blessings, we must understand what keys are and how to use them.
In this essay series on priesthood the concept of a pattern has been discussed at length. Here is a quick summary.
- Priesthood is an association of people who follow the same order.
- The Melchizedek Priesthood is the Holy Order of God. There are many portions of the priesthood, and we can think about them as “sub-orders”.
- The way you enter into an order is you must fulfill the pattern(s) of that order.
- The rights, privileges, and power of a priesthood is according to the order(s) that you embody by virtue of the pattern(s) you fulfill.
The purpose of the priesthood is to create heaven on earth. It is to transform the world from hell into its heavenly form. To do so the patterns of the world must be rejected and the patterns of heaven must be fulfilled.
How does a person learn or receive the pattern that they must fulfill? This is the purpose of a key. Keys have unique patterns of teeth that are designed to open specific locks. You can think of these patterns as information imbedded in the key. If you have the right key with the right pattern, you can open whatever lock you desire.
The key itself is both a charge to do something and the information of how to unlock spiritual knowledge or power. One must both possess a key legally, and also exercise it with faith in order to unlock the spiritual knowledge or power of that key.
Just like a combination lock, if you know the combination you can unlock and receive whatever is inside. A key is just like a combination on a lock – you have to discover what the combination the key gives you, and by exercising faith on the information that the key provides you turn the key. You enter in the combination. And by doing this you access spiritual knowledge, power, and/or authority according to the key.
It is not enough to be given a key. Keys are useless and have no power unless they are turned. It is not enough to possess the information of a pattern, it must be fulfilled in order to unlock.
When a key is fully turned, when a pattern is completely fulfilled, power is unlocked and we experience a transition, an endowment, a blessing, and/or power. Something will transition from a lesser form to a higher. Turning a priesthood key will transform something from its earthly form into a higher form.
In its most fundamental sense, receiving the key of repentance will lead someone to fulfill the patterns of repentance and thereby receive a remission of their sins. This is turning a key and transitioning to something more holy and heaven-like. It is an ordinance.
The same with the exercising of faith, it is turning a key so that understanding and reliance on God as a heavenly pattern is fulfilled. When the key of faith is turned transformation occurs.
Whether it is repentance, faith, prayer, baptism, a priesthood endowment, a marriage sealing; all of these keys lead to an ordinance where something transitions from a lower form to a higher.
What Does It Mean to Receive a Key?
As we will soon explore, there are different types of keys with many different types of functions. But one thing that is common between all keys is that when one receives it, they also receive a charge or an invitation. For example, if someone receives the key of repentance by reading the scriptures and learning the pattern of repentance, they are also charged with doing so. When they receive the pattern they are also receiving an invitation to fulfill it. When God bestows a key he is also bestowing a charge to do something.
For example, when a Bishop receives the keys to lead a ward, it is not sufficient that he has been given leadership rights. He must fulfill the charge given to him, and he can’t fulfill the charge unless he learns the pattern of the keys that he has received. Being given a key gives you no authority of heaven, it is a charge to fulfill a pattern so that you can unlock heavenly power on behalf of a people.
So, to receive a key means you receive an invitation or a charge. If you do not turn the key and fulfill a pattern, keys become dormant and unused. They become vain tokens. If the keys are not turned, they eventually rust.
Three Types of Keys
Sometimes the concept of priesthood keys can be confusing because we fail to recognize different categories and purposes of keys. For example, it isn’t uncommon to think of all priesthood keys as rights of leadership. Even though some keys do unlock this pattern and right, this is only a subset of the vast amount of keys available within God’s priesthood order. There appear to be three general categories. In order to gain clarity it is really helpful to divide keys into these categories and explore how they work and for what purpose they are used.
Also, it would be an impossible endeavor to be able to identify every key and the pattern it contains, the keys available to God’s children are as exhaustive as the gospel itself. But let’s look at the three categories.
- Individual keys
- Ordinance Keys
- Administrative Keys (keys do not give you rights, they give you charges)
Individual keys are keys you turn for yourself. You receive a direct and personal charge or invitation, you receive a pattern, and you fulfill it. You turn the key.
The first type of key an individual receives is the key to knowledge. This is the general knowledge and patterns the Lord has communicated to prophets that have been written in scripture. When Adam and Eve left the Garden it was necessary for the Lord to send messengers and begin to deliver light and truth to our first parents. As they received this knowledge and were obedient to it, they received more. The knowledge contained in the scriptures begin to teach us about faith in God, how to be obedient, to what commandments to be obedient, how to humble ourselves in order to receive more from heaven, and how to conform to truth.
As we develop faith and choose to be obedient to God, he begins to give us commandments such as sacrifice and repentance. How to be obedient, how to sacrifice, and how to repent are all keys of knowledge that he gives all of his children through the blessing of prophets and true messengers.
These are all keys. If you are given a pattern in the scriptures it is a key given to you in order to fulfill an invitation or a charge.
It is not sufficient to read the scriptures, we must discover the pattern they teach and then do it, exactly as it instructs.
It reminds me of King Benjamin when he taught the key or repentance to his people.
“And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them” (Mosiah 4: 10)
Some individual keys are given to everyone through the scriptures or words of prophets. All who hear or read the words are given a key to unlock a pattern. They are invited to move into God’s order.
Gifts of the Spirit are also exercised with keys, not only do they come by the power of the Holy Ghost (which requires keys to receive) they are received through fulfilling patterns. Here is a list of individual keys a person (both men and women) can seek out in order to fulfill the patterns of the priesthood.
- Key of faith
- Key of repentance
- Key of obedience
- Key of receiving a broken heart and contrite spirit
- Key of visions
- Key of knowledge
- Key of revelation
- Key of prophesy
- Key of healing
- Key of casting out devils
- Key of testimony
- Key of teaching
- Key of seership
Obtain Key: By reading in the scriptures, taught by someone who possesses key, or receive through covenant a key.
Fulfill Pattern: Learn the pattern(s) that these keys are received and used. This process may take a lot of time.
Unlock Heaven: Receive power, knowledge, or a condition directly from heaven.
Keys of the Kingdom
Of the many keys Joseph revealed to the members of the church, what he often referred to as the “keys of the kingdom” were of the most most important. The keys of the kingdom are the priesthood signs, tokens, and names that we receive by covenant in the temple in order to participate in the true order of prayer. These keys include the ability to detect adversarial imposters and to know if one is being deceived in revelation. The keys of the kingdom is learning how to pray in a way that enables us to detect adversarial counterfeits and receive knowledge and instruction that brings us through the veil and into the presence of the Lord.
Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his private diary.
Among the vast number of the Keys of the Kingdom of God Joseph presented the following one to the Twelve for there benefit in there experience & travels in the flesh which is as follows. In order to detect the devel when he transforms himself nigh unto an angel of light. When an angel of God appears unto man face to face in personage & reaches out his hand unto the man & he takes hold of the angels hand & feels a substance the Same as one man would in shaking hands with another he may then know that it is an angel of God, & he should place all Confidence in him Such personages or angels are Saints with there resurrected Bodies, but if a personage appears unto man & offers him his hand & the man takes hold of it & he feels nothing or does not sens any substance he may know it is the devel, for when a Saint whose body is not resurrected appears unto man in the flesh he will not offer him his hand for this is against the law given him & in keeping in mind these things we may detect the devil that he decieved us not (Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, p. 6).
Towards the end of his ministry Joseph worked hard to prepare the members of the church for their priesthood endowment in a consecrated temple. He prepared both sister and brothers for this gift. It was critical for their progress to receive the keys of the kingdom. Here is an excerpt from a meeting with the Relief Society sisters.
“He said as he had this opportunity, he was going to instruct the Society and point out the way for them to conduct, that they might act according to the will of God—that he did not know as he should have many opportunities of teaching them—that they were going to be left to themselves—they would not long have him to instruct them—that the church would not have his instruction long, and the world would not be troubled with him a great while, and would not have his teachings”—He spoke of delivering the keys to this society and to the Church—that according to his prayers God had appointed him elsewhere He exhorted the sisters always to concentrate their faith and prayers for, and place confidence in those whom God has appointed to honor, whom God has plac’d at the head to lead—that we should arm them with our prayers—that the keys of the kingdom are about to be given to them, that they may be able to detect every thing false—as well as to the Elders” (Relief Society Minutes, 28 April, 1842, Words of Joseph Smith 114-115).
Apostle Charles C. Rich shared the following in a Stake Conference in Idaho.
“It was a long time after the Prophet Joseph Smith had received the keys of the kingdom of God, and after Hyrum and others had received many blessings, that the Lord gave Joseph a revelation, to show him and others how they could ask for and receive certain blessings. We read in the revelations of St. John, that [of] the white stone [as follows:] ‘and in the stone a new name, which no man knoweth save him that receiveth it.’ Joseph tells us [in D&C 130:10-11] that this new name is a key-word, which can only be obtained through the endowments. This is one of the keys and blessings that will be bestowed upon the Saints in these last days, for which we should be very thankful” (Apostle Charles C. Rich Journal of Discourses, 19:250).
The keys of the kingdom, or, the keys of revelation, are not only the authorization to pray in the true order, but he also taught the patterns of prayer that unlock the heavens. These are keys in every sense of the term. It is both authorization and the pattern bestowed on the saints in the holy priesthood endowment. To become fully endowed we must exercise these keys on our behalf and receive all of the knowledge heaven has in store for us to receive the full revelation of God.
Performing an ordinance is the ability to turn a key on behalf of someone else.
When we are sufficiently prepared to make a covenant with God we seek out those that have keys to perform ordinances that are both commanded of God and purposeful. These types of keys are exercised on our behalf.
Why do we have physical ordinances?
I’d like to suggest a definition of an ordinance that reflects scriptural teaching and underscores their eternal purpose. Please consider this core principle.
The purpose of God in establishing His holy order on earth is not just to collect believers and prepare them for an afterlife – administering esoteric rights and rituals that will benefit them primarily in the hereafter. The purpose of ordinances it to transform this fallen earth into its heavenly form. This mortal experience is a form of hell. Lucifer has declared himself the God of this world and the works of God’s children on this earth are predominately after the order of Lucifer and of his purposes. Living on this earth one experiences an invitation to leave the order of a fallen world and the orders of hell that rule it.
Ordinances are the intervention of heaven. It is when power from above comes to earth and transforms it to its heavenly form. They are purposeful in transitioning this earth to an order of God, where light, truth and the patterns and orders of God redeem it from its fallen, hellish state. It is the power of God manifest in a fallen world.
We must be careful not to confuse physical ordinances that do not perform their prescribed function of endowing with heavenly power as a complete ordinance. An ordinance takes place only when the intended transition and display of heavenly power is made manifest. It must be evidenced. If it is not, we experience a vain ordinance – or a physical act without the power of heaven. They have “a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” (Joseph Smith History 1:19)
And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the fleshD&C 84: 21
It’s easy to assume that the this scripture means that when a physical ordinance is performed that the power of godliness is made manifest. Rather, I believe it is instructing us that unless the power of godliness is made manifest, an ordinance has not been completed.
If an ordinance is performed and the pattern is not being fulfilled in order to manifest the power of godliness, then what the Lord is providing in mercy, is a key. This is a critical point to consider. Ordinances that do not produce the power of heaven teach us in their ritualistic, dramatized forms give us a key or pattern of what is supposed to happen in that ordinance so that it may be fulfilled. When the power of godliness is not manifest an ordinance has not yet occurred, but a pattern has been given to help the individual to receive of the power of God once the pattern has been fulfilled, and all the keys have been turned.
For an ordinance to fulfill its intended purpose of transitioning something from its fallen form to its redeemed and heavenly form, two keys must be turned. The individual receiving an ordinance must fulfill the patterns prescribed that are preparatory for an ordinance to take place, and the individual charged with performing an ordinance must also fulfill the prescribed patterns so that they may provide the power of heaven to be manifest in an ordinance. Both keys must be turned. Both patterns must be fulfilled.
We cannot escape the necessity of ordinances. Joseph Smith taught very clearly the following.
The question is frequently asked, “Can we not be saved without going through with all those ordinances?” I would answer, No, not the fulness of salvation. Jesus said, There are many mansions in my Father’s house, and I will go and prepare a place for you. House here named should have been translated kingdom; and any person who is exalted to the highest mansion has to abide a celestial law, and the whole law too.Joseph Smith
It is through holy ordinances that we are transformed and prepared to live and enjoy the presence of God. They are not arbitrary rituals. They are eternally ordained and purposeful. It is through ordinances that we are transformed.
Consider the introductory ordinances and covenants of the Gospel.
- Receive the key of knowledge of how to repent sufficiently to receive a remission of your sins. We receive this key through the scriptures and those that possess it already. (You cannot give what you do not possess)
- Fulfill the pattern by repenting according to the scriptures and receiving a remission of sins, this pattern is the broken heart and contrite spirit.
- Fulfill the pattern by obeying the ordinance of baptism of water. Someone who is authorized to exercise this key on your behalf will conduct an ordinance that produces a blessing.
- Fulfill the pattern by receiving the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. This blessing is given by someone who has this key by virtue of having received the power from heaven (this will be the subject of a future essay).
- Unlock the power of being endowed with a baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost from heaven.
Baptism is a holy ordinance preparatory to the reception of the Holy Ghost; it is the channel and key by which the Holy Ghost will be administered.
Joseph Smith taught about this holy ordinance when he taught the following:
The Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, cannot be received through the medium of any other principle than the principle of righteousness, for if the proposals are not complied with, it is of no use, but withdraws.Joseph Smith, 27 June 1839, Commerce, Illinois
Notice that it is not sufficient that one receives a physical ordinance of laying on of hands to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. The entire pattern must be fulfilled. The one receiving the gift must be cleansed through fulfilling the baptismal requirement of having already received a remission of sins. They must also come forward with a broken heart and contrite spirit (3 Nephi 9: 20). And they must receive it through the channel of the laying on of hands by one who has been endowed with the power of heaven to give this gift. These are all of the patterns that must be fulfilled to complete this initiation into the strait and narrow path. All of these keys must be used and turned for the transformation of spiritual rebirth to take place.
Now that we are endowed with the gift of the Holy Ghost we are invited to the temple to learn about the strait and narrow path. We receive more keys of knowledge. And we receive keys of the priesthood that unlock the knowledge of patterns that we must receive preparatory to enter into the full order of the priesthood. We learn about the pattern of how to receive true messengers. We learn the keys of praying in the true order of prayer. We receive covenants, signs, tokens, key words, and keys of knowledge of how to receive the revelatory process that the temple endowment dramatizes. We receive the keys of knowledge through the ritualistic endowment so that we know how to receive the true, revelatory priesthood endowment of knowledge and sanctification.
When Joseph was preparing the Relief Society sisters to receive their priesthood endowment he taught the following:
He [Joseph Smith] spoke of delivering the keys of the Priesthood to the Church, and said that the faithful members of the Relief Society should receive them with their husbands, that the Saints whose integrity has been tried and proved faithful, might know how to ask the Lord and receive an answer; for according to his prayers, God had appointed him elsewhere.Relief Society Minutes
The temple endowment is receiving by covenant all of the individual keys necessary to part the veil in mortality and be received into the full Holy Order of the Priesthood. Even though one receives the keys in the endowment it does not follow that they are thus endowed. Unless those keys are turned in faith the actual endowment is dormant and has no effect.
As we discussed in the essay, Melchizedek Priesthood and the Holy Order: The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, it is through the temple endowment of the priesthood that both men and women receive the oath and covenants of the priesthood. The temple endowment involves all of the covenants and keys and reception of oaths that bring us into the presence of God. The purpose of the Melchizedek Priesthood is to bring us back into the presence of God while in the flesh (D&C 84: 19-26)
Receiving the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and many of the them must be received through the temple, is receiving the patterns by covenant that we must fulfill to enter into God’s presence.
Joseph Smith revealed the purpose of the Melchizdek Priesthood is the following.
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
The Melchizedek Priesthood is the order of coming back into the presence of the Lord while in the flesh. This process requires receiving all of the covenants, tokens, signs, and keys necessary to fulfill the pattern to become of the order. We must not confuse receiving a key with the actual power of that key. In order to receive true Melchizedek Priesthood we must exercise every key that brings us fully into that order.
Keys Exercised On Our Behalf
Individual keys are a necessary but not sufficient to bringing us into the full order of the priesthood.
Not only do we receive and possess keys that we must exercise on our behalf, but we must seek out those that have keys of the priesthood that must be exercised for us. We need both. This is according to the work and order of God.
This pattern is demonstrated all through scripture. Two (of many) great examples come immediately to mind.
Abraham Received Priesthood From Melchizedek
First, Abraham desired a priesthood. He desired to come fully into the order of God and receive a blessing of posterity. He sought out Melchizedek for this blessing.
Joseph Smith gave a sermon that taught about this even:
“Respecting the Melchizedek Priesthood, the sectarians never professed to have it; consequently they never could save any one, and would all be damned together. There was an Episcopal priest who said he had the priesthood of Aaron, but had not the priesthood of Melchizedek: and I bear testimony that I never have found the man who claimed the Priesthood of Melchizedek. The power of the Melchizedek Priesthood is to have the power of “endless lives”; for the everlasting covenant cannot be broken…
The law was given under Aaron for the purpose of pouring out judgments and destructions. . . .
There are three grand orders of priesthood referred to here.
1st. The King of Shiloam (Salem) had power and authority over that of Abraham, holding the key and the power of endless life. Angels desire to look into it, but they have set up too many stakes. God cursed the children of Israel because they would not receive the last law from Moses.
The sacrifice required of Abraham in the offering up of Isaac, shows that if a man would attain to the keys of the kingdom of an endless life; he must sacrifice all things. When God offers a blessing or knowledge to a man, and he refuses to receive it, he will be damned. The Israelites prayed that God would speak to Moses and not to them; in consequence of which he cursed them with a carnal law.
What was the power of Melchizedek? ‘Twas not the Priesthood of Aaron which administers in outward ordinances, and the offering of sacrifices. Those holding the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood are kings and priests of the Most High God, holding the keys of power and blessings. In fact, that Priesthood is a perfect law of theocracy, and stands as God to give laws to the people, administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam.
Abraham says to Melchizedek, I believe all that thou hast taught me concerning the priesthood and the coming of the Son of Man; so Melchizedek ordained Abraham and sent him away. Abraham rejoiced, saying, Now I have a priesthood” (Joseph Smith, 27 August 1843, Grove Near Temple, Nauvoo, Illinois).
This is a long quote but it is purposeful. Joseph Smith is describing two things happening to Abraham in order for him to receive the blessings he desired. He had to receive, understand, and turn the key of sacrificing all things in order to receive the priesthood order he desired. This is an individual key he received and used.
He then sought out Melchizedek to be ordained and brought into this Holy Order. Even though Abraham was great and righteous in his own right, he sought out someone who could administer the ordinance to bring him to fulfill the pattern of being received into a fullness of God’s priesthood.
As recorded in Genesis 14 JST:
“And it came to pass, that God blessed Abram, and gave unto him riches, and honor, and lands for an everlasting possession; according to the covenant which he had made, and according to the blessing wherewith Melchizedek had blessed him” (Genesis 14: 40 JST).
Christ Seeking Baptism
Jesus Christ is the great archetype of righteousness. He demonstrated and fulfilled every pattern that we must fulfill so that we can become of his order.
“And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!” (2 Nephi 31: 5)
Joseph taught that Christ came to John because he was a legal administrator of baptism – that he held the keys.
“Sabbath Meeting—Joseph Read the 2 & 3d Chapters of Malachi & stated that there was a priesthood conferred upon the sons of Levi throughout the generations of the Jews, & he also said they was born heirs to that priesthood by lineage or descent & held the Keys of the first principles of the Gospel—for this—he quoted concerning Jesus coming to John to be Baptized of John that he (Jesus) Might Enter into the Kingdom as John held the Keys, suffer it to be so now &c he also brought up Zacharias pleading with the Lord in the temple that he might have seed so that the priesthood might be preserved” (Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, pp. 67).
The Savior sought out the keys of the priesthood, someone who could perform something for him that he could not perform for himself. He had to receive a blessing from someone that could turn a key for him.
The same pattern as individual keys is needed for keys exercised on our behalf – let’s call them “administrative keys”.
Although individual keys are given equally to women and men, administrative keys are almost exclusively given to men in earthly stewardships. There is a reason for this that will be explored at length in a forthcoming essay on men and women in the priesthood order.
When a brother receives an administrative key he is charged in using it (turning it) on behalf of others. In order to do so, he must use the same pattern observed for individual keys
1. He must legally acquire the key. If there is a legal channel from which to receive it he must seek out that channel and receive it according to the laws of God. If there is no legal channel, heaven can endow him with that key directly.
2. He must understand how the key works. Which is to say, he must receive the information of the key to understand how to turn it.
3. After acting in faith and fulfilling the requirements to turn the key he then can unlock the spiritual knowledge and/or power that the key provides in order to fulfill his stewardship.
As we’ve already explored, a fundamental purpose of priesthood on earth is to create heaven on earth. This happens by adopting the patterns of heaven and manifesting them on earth. This is the purpose of having a church.
Priesthood in heaven is a pattern of ordered beings condescending and considering themselves the least of all. A condescension in this sense of the word means someone chooses to suffer and sacrifice with others in order for them to ascend closer to God. It is the eternal pattern of the priesthood. Christ is the great archetype of the priesthood as he sacrificed himself for all of humanity. All those that desire to follow Christ and be of his order (priesthood) will also sacrifice and suffer with others according to his stewardship.
This is what those in church government are called to do. They are charged with performing sacrifices and works of condescension on behalf of those in their stewardship in order to prepare them to ascend closer to God. The order of the church is an order of heaven.
When a church leader receives a “priesthood key” they receive a charge. That charge is to perform the sacrifices, repentance, and patterns that the Lord gives them in order to bless the people they are charged to minister. They are called to become the least of those people.
He that is ordained of God and sent forth, the same is appointed to be the greatest, notwithstanding he is the least and the servant of all.D&C 50: 26
An administrative key holder will receive keys that give them exclusive responsibility to manifest the patterns of leadership for their stewardship. For example, not being a bishop, I cannot go to the Lord and ask for direction on who should be the Relief Society President, or, who needs to repent in my ward, or, if we should hold a ward sacrament meeting earlier in the day. This is knowledge and patterns that only the legal key holder has access to. I cannot insert myself into that stewardship.
Just because a bishop, or an Elders Quorum President, or an Apostle hold a key, that is no guarantee that they are turning the keys. The great responsibility of priesthood leadership is that they have to turn the keys – fulfill the patterns -given to them so that they can be a blessing to the people. Possession does not mean power, but a key turned has the potential of great and miraculous power of heaven.
A called priesthood leader should constantly be asking, am I turning the keys I have for my ward, stake, or the church? Am I fulfilling all of the patterns that I am charged with fulfilling? Have I gained favor with the Lord because I am willing to perform any sacrifice, obedience, and condescension on behalf of the people in my stewardship? Have I fulfilled the patterns of heaven on behalf of the people?
This is exactly why (and how) we should sustain the leadership of the church. We should help them insofar as it is possible, to turn their keys. We should sustain them in fulfilling their assigned patterns. We can do so by supporting them, praying for them, fasting for them, and doing whatever the Lord asks of us in order for them to fulfill to turn the keys of their calling.
When a priesthood leader fulfills the patterns of their calling, they are “magnifying their calling”(D&C 84: 33).
One key that all ordained priesthood holders receive is a charge to come clean from the blood and sins of this generation. This is a calling they receive in the temple priesthood endowment. This is what it means to magnify their calling – they are called to come clean from the sins of those they are called to have stewardship. They do this by both declaring repentance, the Law of the Gospel, and suffering with their stewardship so that they can bring them into a pure covenant relationship with the Lord. Jacob, the brother of Nephi, is a scriptural pattern of the principle of magnifying your calling.
“And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day” (Jacob 1: 19)
And Jacob repeats this principle again in the next chapter.
“Now, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, according to the responsibility which I am under to God, to magnify mine office with soberness, and that I might rid my garments of your sins, I come up into the temple this day that I might declare unto you the word of God” (Jacob 2: 2).
One of the great charges of priesthood stewardship is to come clean from the blood and sins of your generation. Declaring repentance and then loving and serving and suffering with people to bring them into a redeemed structure is a primary purpose of priesthood stewardship.
When a person is called to be a bishop, an elders quorum president, a stake president, or an Apostle, they are primarily called to come clean from the blood and sins of their generation. Their own salvation depends on fulfilling this charge. They carry the sins of the people on their own garments unless they sufficiently fulfill the stewardship and charge received through the endowment of a key. But this is not the only pattern they must fulfill. They must also go to the Lord and ask for all of the keys and patterns that they are required to fulfill to be a blessing to their people. If this is not done, they carry an eternal consequence. Priesthood callings and keys are very, very serious because of this reality. We should give ourselves completely to the sustaining and support of those that have received these holy callings and charges.
The president of the church is the chief apostle. He is the great High Priest over the church. At the time of writing this it is President Nelson. He holds all of the keys of the church. It is under his singular stewardship and responsibility to guide the church in all of its functions, and in the usage of all of the keys. This is an incredible responsibility. He deserves our respect, our prayers, and our whole-hearted sustaining in this great charge. It is an unbelievable burden to carry. President Nelson is charged with turning the keys for all of the church. He must fulfill the patterns in the same way an Elder’s Quorum President must fulfill the patterns. If we do not sustain these brethren in these calls of condescension and fulfilling the Lord’s work then we come under great condemnation.
Because President Nelson holds all of the keys of the church, all ordinations within the church will come through the authorization of the keys in his stewardship. The pattern of the Lord must be fulfilled precisely as he has prescribed.
Joseph Smith taught this principle as recorded by this recollection from Orsen Hyde.
“An angel,” said Joseph, “may administer the word of the Lord unto men, and bring intelligence to them from heaven upon various subjects; but no true angel from God will ever come to ordain any man, because they have once been sent to establish the priesthood by ordaining me thereunto; and the priesthood being once established on earth, with power to ordain others, no heavenly messenger will ever come to interfere with that power by ordaining any more.”
He referred to the angel that came to Cornelius and told Cornelius to send for Peter; but if there had been no Peter with keys and power to administer, the angel might have done it himself; but as there was, the angel would not interfere. Saul was directed to go to Ananias for instruction and to be administered to by him; but if there had been no Ananias with power and authority on the earth to administer in the name of Christ, the Lord might have done it himself. “You may therefore know, from this time forward, that if any man comes to you professing to be ordained by an angel, he is either a liar or has been imposed upon in consequence of transgression by an angel of the devil, for this priesthood shall never be taken away from this church.”
This testimony [of the Prophet Joseph Smith] was delivered in an upper room, in the south-west corner of the White Store and dwelling-house, formerly occupied by Whitney and Gilbert, situate on Kirtland Flats.Orson Hyde, “Although Dead, Yet He Speaketh,” Millennial Star 8 [20 November 1846]:138–39
I’ve pondered a long time about the principle of unrighteous dominion and would like to suggest a possible definition. Because it is not sufficient to exercise authority by virtue of being given a key of the priesthood, and because it is through the turning and fulfilling the patterns of a key that unlocks heavenly power, unrighteous dominion is, perhaps, the exertion of authority without having fulfilled the patterns.
If someone declares authority and dominion and has not exercised the keys that grants them that dominion, then they are exercising authority without the principle of righteousness. In other words, in a very precise way, a key does not give anyone power in and of itself. It does not give authority or power by virtue of reception. The power and authority of a key exists only when it is fully turned and when the heavenly requirements of that key are satisfied.
“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: 36).
The “principle of righteousness” is achieved when the key is turned. It is not the key itself.
“That they may (keys)be conferred upon us, it is true; 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” (D&C 121: 37).
It is not possession of the key that gives authority. It is the righteous fulfillment of the patterns that give authority. It is turning a key that brings the power and authority of heaven. Without heaven’s intervention, a man has no authority and has no priesthood.
Just as a priesthood leader is charged with fulfilling the patterns associated with the keys of his call, he is also to become a pattern to the church of how to do so. Because all covenant members of the church are given keys required for their exaltation, is the duty of the leadership to model these patterns for the church. This is also a great responsibility.
One of the great callings of apostleship is to become a living witness of the living, resurrected Christ. They are charged to receive this witness for the church and for the world (D&C 107: 3). It is a key given to them, and they are to be patterns, examples, and models to the church membership of how to receive the same witness and blessings. Because the purpose of the Melchizedek Priesthood is to be brought into the presence of the Lord while in the flesh, those that hold this high and holy office are supposed to be living examples of how to do that.
Elder McConkie taught this great principle of apostleship.
“All Christendom knows, or should know, that the ancient apostles were special witnesses of the Lord’s name; that they saw him after he rose from the dead; that he spent forty days with them as a resurrected being, teaching them all things that it was expedient for them to know pertaining to his kingdom. Those who believe the Book of Mormon are aware that, as with the Twelve in Jerusalem, so with the Twelve on the American continent: they were all witnesses of the Lord—they all felt the nail marks in his hands and feet; they all thrust their hands into his side. There is general awareness in the Church that the latter-day Twelve hold the same office, possess the same priesthood and keys, and bear the same witness of the divine Sonship of him who redeemed us as did their predecessors in days of old. It is true that the witness of the Holy Ghost is sure and absolute and that a man can know with a perfect knowledge, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God who was crucified for the sins of the world. This unshakeable certainty can rest in his soul even though he has not seen the face of his Lord. But it is also true that those who have this witness of the Spirit are expected, like their counterparts of old, to see and hear and touch and converse with the Heavenly Person, as did those of old” (The Promised Messiah, p.592).
In the Apostolic Charge given to Parley P. Pratt, we find these words: “The ancients . . . had this testimony—that they had seen the Savior after he rose from the dead. You must bear the same testimony; or your mission, your labor, your toil, will be in vain. You must bear the same testimony that there is but one God, one Mediator; he that hath seen him, will know him, and testify of him.“
The Apostolic Charge delivered by Oliver Cowdery included the following:
“It is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven to yourselves; so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and that you have seen the face of God. That is more than the testimony of an angel. When the proper time arrives, you shall be able to bear this testimony to the world. When you bear testimony that you have seen God, this testimony God will never suffer to fall, but will bear you out; although many will not give heed, yet others will. You will therefore see the necessity of getting this testimony from heaven. Never cease striving until you have seen God face to face. Strengthen your faith; cast off your doubts, your sins, and all your unbelief; and nothing can prevent you from coming to God. Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid his hand upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us; God is the same. If the Savior in former days laid his hands upon his disciples, why not in latter days? . . . The time is coming when you will be perfectly familiar with the things of God. . . . You have our best wishes, you have our most fervent prayers, that you may be able to bear this testimony, that you have seen the face of God. Therefore call upon him in faith in mighty prayer till you prevail, for it is your duty and your privilege to bear such a testimony for yourselves” (History of the Church, 2:192-98.).
Few people have taught this more powerfully than Elder Bruce R. McConkie. From his book, The Promise Messiah, Elder McConkie teaches the great principle of both the witness of the apostleship and the principle of becoming patterns for others.
Apostles and prophets are named as examples and patterns of what others should be. The Quorum of the Twelve should be a model quorum after which every elders quorum in the Church might pattern its course… I repeat: apostles and prophets simply serve as patterns and examples to show all men what they may receive if they are true and faithful. There is nothing an apostle can receive that is not available to every elder in the kingdom. As we have heretofore quoted, from the Prophet’s sermon on the Second Comforter: “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them.” (Teachings, p. 149.) It follows that everything stated by Elder Oliver Cowdery in his charge to the apostles could also be given as a charge to all elders. Every elder is entitled and expected to seek and obtain all the spiritual blessings of the gospel, including the crowning blessing of seeing the Lord face to face.Bruce R. McConkie
Ultimately, the purpose of the priesthood is to exercise all keys required to bring God’s covenant people into His presence while in the flesh. It is the purpose of the church, of priesthood leadership structures, ordinances, and individual keys to come together in one great singular purpose of entering into the glory of the Lord while in mortality. If we fail to remember that purpose, and to use keys for that primary reason, we fail to both understand and exercise the keys of the priesthood.
Joseph Smith summarized this perfectly when he taught the following.
“How have we come at the Priesthood in the last days? It came down, down, in regular succession. Peter, James, and John had it given to them and they gave it to others. Christ is the Great High Priest; Adam next. Paul speaks of the Church coming to an innumerable company of angels—to God the Judge of all—the spirits of just men made perfect; to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant. (Hebrews 12:22-24.)
I saw Adam in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman. He called together his children and blessed them with a patriarchal blessing. The Lord appeared in their midst, and he (Adam) blessed them all, and foretold what should befall them to the latest generation [D&C 107:53–57].
This is why Adam blessed his posterity; he wanted to bring them into the presence of God. They looked for a city, etc., “whose builder and maker is God.” (Hebrews 11:10.) Moses sought to bring the children of Israel into the presence of God, through the power of the Priesthood, but he could not. In the first ages of the world they tried to establish the same thing; and there were Eliases raised up who tried to restore these very glories, but did not obtain them; but they prophesied of a day when this glory would be revealed. Paul spoke of the dispensation of the fullness of times, when God would gather together all things in one, etc.; and those men to whom these keys have been given, will have to be there; and they without us cannot be made perfect.
These men are in heaven, but their children are on the earth. Their bowels yearn over us. God sends down men for this reason. “And the Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that give offense and them that do iniquity.” (Matthew 13:41.) All these authoritative characters will come down and join hand in hand in bringing about this work” (Teachings and Sayings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 104).
To summarize this essay, I hope to make clear the following points:
1. A key is a pattern that must be fulfilled to unlock the power of heaven
2. A key must be received in an authorized manner
3. Ordinances occur when keys are fully turned and the patterns are fulfilled
4. Ordinances are when someone (or something) fallen has been transitioned to a heavenly form
5. There are three types of keys – 1. Individual 2. Ordinance 3. Administrative
6. All three categories of priesthood keys have the singular purpose of bringing you into the presence of God while in the flesh. This is the primary purpose of the Melchizedek Priesthood
I bear witness of the restoration of the priesthood of God on the earth. I have a witness of the Holy Ghost that the keys required to be brought back into the presence of God are once again made available to God’s covenant people. I testify that President Nelson has been given the keys to direct God’s work on the earth and that the keys of the priesthood are available for the blessing and exaltation of God’s children. It is an incredible time in which we live.