In the Lord’s Church the organization of the priesthood is used to govern the Church. In this day and time the Lord has chosen the quorum to be the organizational tool for the various offices of the priesthood. I have highlighted the word quorum in the previous line because it links to an article that explains what a quorum is and what its purpose is. The present article outlines the basic offices within the two priesthoods of the Church, the Aaronic, the lesser priesthood, and the Melchizedek, the greater priesthood.
The Deacon is the first office in the Aaronic Priesthood. Young men, when they turn 11 and are interviewed and found worthy of the priesthood by the Bishop, are ordained to the office of Deacon. The priesthood of Aaron in the Old Testament took care of all the outward or physical ordinances of the temple. Only the ancient prophets held the Melchizedek priesthood. According to the Law of Moses, only literal descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses, could hold the Aaronic priesthood. They performed all the sacrifices and physical temple duties for the Israelites.
The modern Deacon passes the sacrament. This is the only ordinance they have the right to administer. But “the deacons and teachers should be appointed to watch over the church, to be standing ministers unto the church.” (Doctrine & Covenants 84: 111) Deacons care for the physical facilities of the church house, run errands for the Bishop, and are to teach the members to keep the commandments.
Teachers are ordained to this office at the age of 14, again after being interviewed by the Bishop. They can do everything the Deacon can do, but can also prepare the sacrament. Teachers can be a Minister (one who serves others in an official capacity) with a Melchizedek Priesthood holder. This is generally where they learn how to watch over the members of the Church and look out for the needs of other families. They are also charged with making sure that the members are doing their duty and that there is no contention in the Church.
The Priest is ordained, after being interviewed for worthiness by the Bishop, at the age of 16. He can now pass, prepare, and bless the sacrament. He can also baptize, but not confirm someone a member of the Church. Nor can he bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost. (I will note here that baptism is both an Aaronic AND Melchizedek ordinance. The first half, the actual baptism, is done under the Aaronic priesthood. The second half, the confirmation of membership in the Lord’s kingdom must be done by a holder of the Melchizedek priesthood.) The priest can ordain others to any office within the Aaronic Priesthood, under the direction of the Bishop. Doctrine and Covenants section 20 says,
46 The priest’s duty is to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament,
47 And visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties.
48 And he may also ordain other priests, teachers, and deacons.
Priests also Minister with a Melchizedek Priesthood holder. At this age they are preparing earnestly to go on their mission for the Church at the age of 18. All young men are expected to serve a full-time mission at the age of 18, for two years. This is considered to be the highest of honors, to spend two years in the service of God as His representative. Ask anyone who served a mission honorably, male or female, and you will hear something like, “it was two of the best years of my life.” Women can serve missions at the age of 19, and go for 18 months. They do not hold the priesthood, so cannot baptize or interview for baptism, but they are highly valued in the missions of the Church for the good they accomplish. Ask any Mission President and he will probably tell you he wishes he could get more sisters in his mission.
Bishops must be High Priests in the Melchizedek Priesthood, but the office of Bishop is in the Aaronic Priesthood. Once a man is ordained to the office of Bishop he is often called Bishop, even when his time as Bishop comes to an end. As we say, “Once a Bishop, always a Bishop.” The office of Bishop is highly involved. Bishops care for the poor and the needy. They receive the tithes and offerings of the Church and are responsible for using them to care for those in need. The Bishop is also the steward over the ward. Wards are generally a congregation of several hundred people, all of whom he eventually or regularly interviews for callings (opportunities to serve) in the ward, for worthiness, for temple recommends so they can attend the temple, and a host of other reasons. He presides over all the meetings he attends at the ward level, so is responsible for everything that goes on. He has two counselors to help share his load.
Specifically, the Bishop is over the youth of the ward, particularly the Priests, as he also serves as the President of the Priest’s Quorum. Bishops are extremely busy people. He counsels couples and individuals like any Pastor would, he marries people on occasion, though most of our marriages take place in the temple and not in our church houses. One thing an active mother and father hope they never have to do is to have to ask the Bishop to marry their child. If the Bishop marries a couple it is only because the couple is not currently going to the temple to be married, for whatever reason. Temple marriage is the goal for every home in the Church. Why be married for only 50 years if you can be married forever? Many of the couples married by the Bishop eventually do go to the temple to be sealed together. This is a cause for great celebration and rejoicing.
Bishops serve for approximately five – seven years. It is not unusual for a Bishop to serve as a Bishop more than once in his lifetime. When I was young it was not uncommon for a Bishop to serve in that calling for 15 years at a stretch. Some children of Bishops never recalled a time when their father wasn’t the Bishop. In college wards Bishops tend to serve for only three years at a time. This is a lay ministry, meaning no one is getting a salary for their service. A Bishop does this all on his time away from work and family. A Bishop must be married.
The main office in the Melchizedek Priesthood is that of Elder. Even Apostles use the title of Elder. When we call someone Elder we are either referring to a missionary of any age or we are referring to an Apostle or other General Authority of the Church. Others who go by the title of Elder are members of the quorums of the Seventy, who are basically full-time missionaries for as long as they are in their calling. So it still boils down to pretty much either missionaries or apostles.
As the Aaronic Priesthood is responsible for the physical well being of the Church, the Melchizedek Priesthood is responsible for the spiritual welfare of the Church. Elders have the authority to do all that the Aaronic Priesthood can do, but they can also confirm someone as a member of the Church after their baptism, bestow the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (which happens at the time of confirmation of membership), give blessings of counsel and comfort, blessings of healing, and administer in all temple ordinances when set apart to do so. When there is not a higher authority present an Elder can take charge of meetings, and under authority from those above him hold the rights to Presidency over an Elder’s Quorum.
The Elders Minister to others, and often take the young men with them as companions to teach them how to care for the members of the ward and give service. Because they are younger and have more energy, the Elder’s Quorum is generally tasked with helping people move in and out of the ward, and performing the more physically demanding tasks of repair and construction during service projects. If you haven’t guessed yet, Latter-day Saints do a lot of service.
Men are generally called to the office of High Priest when they are put into a Bishopric, either as the Bishop or one of his counselors, or a Stake Presidency, or some other calling that requires being a High Priest. Doctrine and Covenants 107: 18 says,
18 The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—
The keys or rights to Presidency of organizations in the Church are held by the Melchizedek Priesthood, and are generally found held by High Priests. This means that the Prophet, though a prophet and an apostle, is also a High Priest. The apostles are all High Priests, the quorums of the Seventy are all High Priests, all members of Stake Presidencies, and even Bishoprics are High Priests. Patriarchs and temple Sealers, those who perform eternal marriages, are also High Priests.
High Priests tend to be, but are not required to be, the older brethren in the ward. Sometimes you will find a High Priest in his mid twenties, though this is unusual. High Priests focus on Missionary work by serving missions after they retire, and by serving in the temples as ordinance workers. I used to play the organ in the temple for three hours every Saturday morning as part of my church service. High Priests are responsible for conducting and presiding over meetings of the church. High Priests also do many service projects as they are generally placed in charge of looking after the widows and some of the single sisters in the ward.
In the New Testament the Savior called seventy men to go out in pairs and preach the gospel and prepare the way for him. The quorums of the Seventy are used to regulate the world-wide Church, with specific emphasis on missionary work. In modern scripture we have been told that there is to be a quorum of seventy, with seven Presidents. If the work of preaching the gospel and regulating the affairs of the Church gets big enough, each of the seven presidents can become a president of an entire quorum of seventy additional High Priests. This means that we could conceivably have at some future time, seven full quorums of Seventy. Members of the First Quorum of the Seventy are called for life. Members of the other quorums of the Seventy are called for a period of a few years, then released or called into another quorum of the Seventy. Some are released to become Mission Presidents or Temple Presidents.
A local quorum of the priesthood serves three functions (see the article I mentioned on Quorums), as a class, as a brotherhood, and as a service unit. At this level and above they are not a class, but you can add in an administrative element that doesn’t exist in the lower quorums of the Church. These men travel all over the world to fulfill their assignments for the Church, though more and more they are confining their service to their assigned area around their residence.
A Patriarch is different from anything else in the Church. They are not a quorum of their own. It is really a very lonely calling. Once you are called to be a Patriarch, you have the calling for life. You are no longer able to perform most other callings in the Church. Patriarchs give blessings, that is what they do. But these are not ordinary blessings. A patriarchal blessing is generally given only once in your life.
A Patriarchal blessing is one that is recorded and printed for you to keep and refer to for the rest of your life. Think of it this way – this is what God would say to you in the way of counsel if the two of you were to sit down together to have a talk, but only had a few minutes to do so. One of the main things a Patriarch will do in giving you your blessing is to declare your lineage in the House of Israel. There are certain rights and responsibilities that go along with each of the lineages in the Twelve Tribes of Israel. We go to the Patriarch in a state of fasting and prayer so he can declare to us our lineage, and to give us God’s counsel specifically for the one receiving the blessing. Our Patriarchs are highly revered and respected as being some of the most spiritual men we know. Each blessing is a personal revelation from God to that person.
There is only one quorum of apostles. There are twelve members at any one time. Length of time in the quorum is recognized as seniority within the quorum, with the most senior member usually serving as President. They sit and vote according to seniority. This is a very tight group of men who’s hearts are knit as one. They may vigorously disagree on something to start with, but they always come to a consensus before anything is presented to the Church as a whole. They always act as one body.
The senior apostle at the time of the Prophet’s death becomes the next prophet. There is no voting or debate, it has been decided upon by the Lord. If the Lord doesn’t want so and so to be the next prophet, he takes him home through death for other assignments. We know who the next Prophet of the Church is because he is whoever is serving as the current senior Apostle at the time of the prophet’s death. All apostles are ordained, and then sustained by the membership of the Church as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators. When the prophet dies it is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who ordains the senior member of the quorum to be the next Prophet of the Church, then the Prophet calls a new apostle to take his place at the bottom of the quorum roster.
There are actually 15 Apostles. Three of them are pulled out of the quorum to serve in the quorum of the First Presidency, the presiding quorum of the Church. If the Prophet calls the next most senior Apostle to serve with him in the First Presidency then the next most senior member becomes the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. When the President of the Quorum of the Twelve is called into the First Presidency then the President of the Twelve is referred to as the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He can’t be the President unless he is next in line to be Prophet.
A Word About the Priesthood Offices
Each office in the Priesthood builds off the experiences of the office before it. By the time a young man is 18 years of age he is ready to go out into the world and be a missionary for the Lord. If he learns his lessons well during those two years of service, he will be well equipped for the leadership roles he will be asked to assume as a young married husband and as a father. The offices of the priesthood are there to teach us how to be leaders in our homes and in our communities. We learn to speak in front of others, take responsibility for projects and the lives of others. We learn to feel compassion and empathy for the situation of those around us. We develop a sense of brotherhood as we serve with each other in our quorums and in our wards and stakes. The Lord gave us the offices of the priesthood to teach us to become more like Him. As we honor the priesthood we hold, and do all in our power to serve others, we learn to live the kind of happy lives God wants us to experience. Happiness comes through service, and the offices of the priesthood provide those opportunities to serve.
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