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General authorities and BYU–Hawaii religion professor share difference between priesthood authority and priesthood power

Young Men prepare the sacrament.

Although priesthood power and priesthood authority are often used in place of each other, Linda K Burton, former Relief Society general president, explained there is a difference between the two: “Priesthood authority is conferred by ordination, but priesthood power is available to all.”

Power vs Authority

Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency explained, “While we sometimes refer to priesthood holders as ‘the priesthood,’ we must never forget that the priesthood is not owned by or embodied in those who hold it. It is held in a sacred trust to be used for the benefit of men, women, and children alike.”

Marcus Martins, dean of religious educations, said, “We have, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, become accustomed to using the expression ‘the priesthood’ incorrectly. It’s not a sin, but we have equated the priesthood with the men of the Church.

“That is not entirely accurate because the reality is, when we consider the doctrine of the priesthood, we see in Doctrine and Covenants the Lord saying that we need to be endowed with power from on high. This refers to the ordinances that constitute the endowment in the temple.

“By that, we understand any faithful Latter-day Saint, male or female, who goes to the temple and receives his or her own endowment receives power from on high. As far as I know, the power on high is the priesthood. Women do have the priesthood. The difference is, they are not ordained to an office in the priesthood in the Church.”

Martins noted a difference between power and authority. "The priesthood it the power of God. It is the power that emanates from God. As we read in Doctrine and Covenants Section 88, it fills the immensity of space. It is the power by which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost create worlds…

“Everything that exists, the fundamental laws of nature, gravity, electromagnetism, nuclear forces, all of them are regulated and maintained by the priesthood. That’s the priesthood power.

“The authority of the priesthood is essentially the permission to use priesthood power. In order to have the authority, you need to receive it from somebody who has received it. That goes back all the way to prophets who received it from God or heavenly messengers… It is the permission to exercise the authority in the work of salvation using the power of the priesthood.”

A key component of having both power and authority, according to David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is righteousness. “The power of the priesthood is God’s power operating through men and boys like us and requires personal righteousness, faithfulness, obedience and diligence. A boy or a man may receive priesthood authority by the laying on of hands but will have no priesthood power if he is disobedient, unworthy or unwilling to serve.

“Receiving the authority of the priesthood by the laying on of hands is an important beginning, but it is not enough. Ordination confers authority, but righteousness is required to act with power as we strive to lift souls, to teach and testify, to bless and counsel, and to advance the work of salvation.”

H. Burke Peterson, former first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric said, “All of us who hold the priesthood have the authority to act for the Lord, but the effectiveness of our authority—or if you please, the power that comes through that authority—depends on the pattern of our lives; it depends on our righteousness.”

The purpose of the priesthood

Bednar said, “The priesthood is the means whereby the Lord acts through men to save souls… A priesthood holder is expected to exercise this sacred authority in accordance with God’s holy mind, will and purposes. Nothing about the priesthood is self-centered. The priesthood always is used to serve, to bless and to strengthen other people.”

Sharing the family-centered nature of the priesthood, Peterson said, “He who has developed the power … will honestly consider the righteous desires of his family, even though they may not be exactly the same as his. He will listen to those in his home with the same attention he would give a priesthood leader. He will listen—even to the smallest child.”

Martins said one of the most important ways to use the priesthood is through ministering. “When we changed home and visiting teaching into ministering, I remember people on social media said it was just a change in terminology.

“It’s not a change in terminology or approach. It is a change in vision. It so happens ministering is one of the keys of the Aaronic priesthood. When faithful Latter-day Saint women are engaged in the ministry, either as ministering sisters, teachers, or especially as full-time missionaries, they are exercising authority.

“In the case of ministering sister, it is not by laying on of hands. It is by assignment. The Relief Society Presidency receive the authority from a member of the bishopric using the authority of the priesthood.

“Any authority exercised in the Church is exercised by virtue of the priesthood.”

Different, not superior

M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “In our Heavenly Father’s great priesthood-endowed plan, men have the unique responsibility to administer the priesthood, but they are not the priesthood. Men and women have different but equally valued roles.

Peterson said, although it may seem this way, “Men are not superior to women... The fact that a man holds the priesthood and is the presiding officer in the home, as well as in Church organizations, does not in any way make him a superior being. The priesthood is a divinely given authority and responsibility which will receive its ultimate fulfillment only when there is a devoted and happy wife at his side.”

On the relationship between priesthood holders and those who don’t hold the priesthood, Bednar shared, “Men who bear God’s holy priesthood should be different from other men. Men who hold the priesthood are not inherently better than other men, but they should act differently. Men who hold the priesthood should not only receive priesthood authority but also become worthy and faithful conduits of God’s power.

“Ordinary men are given the authority of the priesthood. Worthiness and willingness—not experience, expertise, or education—are the qualifications for priesthood ordination.”

Writer: Haeley van der Werf