In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there are "two priesthoods namely, the Melchizedek and Aaronic" (D&C 124:123) and the Lord has revealed that the "Priesthood which is after the order of Melchizedek… is after the order of mine Only Begotten Son" (D&C 124:123).
The LDS Church also teaches that, although the priesthood is "after the order of [God's] Only Begotten Son," it ultimately comes from God, the Father and is the source of His power and authority. Therefore the common definition of the priesthood is "The power of God delegated to man." What this means is that the priesthood which mortals hold is given to man for the express purpose of assisting God in doing His work here on earth.
It is further taught that the priesthood administers the ordinances of salvation. What this means is that the way God is able to provide salvation to mortals is by having them participate in certain ordinances, such as baptism, but what gives these ordinances the power to save is the priesthood of the person performing the ordinances. In other words, when a person who holds God's priesthood performs an ordinance it is as though God Himself is performing the act. That is why when a person who does not hold the proper priesthood authority administers the same ordinance, it has no saving effect because it lacks God's divine power.
Therefore, when someone is ordained to the priesthood of God they are, in effect, being deputized to act for and in behalf of God for the express purpose of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. For this reason the priesthood is not conferred upon someone as a gift or honor, nor is it given as a mark of advancement or achievement. Rather, when someone receives the priesthood they are receiving an assignment wherein they are being given a commission by God to perform a divine task. As such, receiving the priesthood is not a reward but a duty that obligates the holder to act for God.
Since the priesthood is the power by which God saves His children then the duty of all priesthood holders is to act as assistants to God in His work of salvation. This is why priesthood holders are often referred to as "ambassadors of Christ," "representatives of Christ," "servants of Christ," or "ministers of Christ." Each of these titles infers that the holder of the priesthood is to use this power to act in place of God, doing those things that God would do if He were present. Put another way, it is as though God has given His priesthood holders an errand to perform and therefore, whenever a person uses their priesthood it is to fulfill their errand from the Lord.
For this reason priesthood holders are expected to be anxiously engaged in doing those things that will help God save His children. While there are many good things someone can do in the service of others, the focus of a priesthood holder must always be on doing those things that are important to God and the thing that is of most worth and therefore is of greatest importance to Him is the salvation of His children. When a priesthood holder loses sight of this fact then he is failing to fulfill his commission.
There are five steps that are necessary in order to become saved. These are: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repenting of sins committed, being baptized by someone having the proper authority, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and enduring to the end in keeping the commandments of God. All five of these steps are necessary for salvation and if just one of them is missing then a person's salvation is incomplete.
For example, a person can have tremendous faith in Christ, repent of their sins, be baptized, have the Holy Ghost in their life, and remain faithful to Christ till their dying day but if they haven't been baptized by someone having the proper authority, then they cannot enter the kingdom of God. Or if a person is properly baptized but doesn't repent of their sins they likewise don't qualify for full salvation.
But, of these five necessary steps, only two require the use of the priesthood - baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Yet the other three parts are just as essential to receiving salvation. If the purpose of the priesthood is to assist God in saving His children then it is obvious that the priesthood is not limited to just two ordinances but is necessary for all five steps.
It is true that a person doesn't need to hold the priesthood in order to help someone develop faith in Jesus Christ or to encourage someone to repent of their sins or assist someone in enduring to the end and because of this we generally don't think of these acts as being part of a priesthood holder's duty. However, such an assumption would be incorrect.
When we think of bringing people to Christ, we often think of missionary work and when we think of missionary work we think of young missionaries going from door to door seeking to find people to teach the gospel to. Although there are females engaged in this work, the great bulk of LDS missionaries are young male priesthood holders. The reason why is because missionary work is necessary to bring about the salvation of men therefore missionary work belongs to the priesthood. Just because females are assisting in this effort doesn't change that fact.
When Christ dwelt on earth He went about healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the hungry, and performing other miracles meant to alleviate the suffering of others but these acts were secondary to His main focus which was teaching the gospel of salvation. The reason He ordained twelve apostles and later seventy other men to the priesthood and established a church organization based on the priesthood (deacons, elders, bishops, etc.) was specifically for the purpose of spreading the gospel throughout the entire world and the priesthood is not only necessary but critically essential for that effort to succeed.
If this is what Christ did then this is what all priesthood holders are required to do as well. When priesthood holders go on a mission they are literally following in the steps of Christ and are emulating His mortal ministry. Even though a person doesn't need to hold the priesthood in order to preach the gospel, priesthood holders have a special obligation and responsibility to bring people to Christ that others don't have. For this reason, they will be held more accountable for their lack of diligence in the salvation of men than will those who do not hold the priesthood.
The scriptures also tell us, "For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on the ignorant and on them that are out of the way, for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity" (Hebrew 5:1,2).
From this scripture we learn several things about the duty of those who hold God's priesthood. The first is that they have been ordained (ordered, commanded) to act for God in His behalf. This is what the scriptures mean when it says "ordained for men in things pertaining to God."
The second thing we learn is that the duty of the priesthood is to "offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins." Christ offered Himself up on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins and this was His gift to us (see Romans 6:23). If the duty of a priesthood holder is to act for and in behalf of God, then they are likewise required to sacrifice themselves to help redeem others of their sins. When we do this freely, that is our gift to them.
The third thing we learn is that we are to "have compassion on the ignorant and on them that are out of the way." Just as Christ had compassion for us, a priesthood holder must likewise have compassion on others as they go about seeking those who don't know about God's plan of salvation and then, once found, teach them God's plan for their salvation. But this duty also includes helping those who have found the truth but who have wandered "out of the way" and help bring them back into the fold. To do this effectively takes a sacrifice of our time and energy.
And the reason why we do this with compassion is because we too are "compassed with infirmity" or, in other words, we too are sinners, subject to the same weaknesses of the flesh and temptations of the devil as is everyone else. Thus, in the proper performance of their duties, priesthood holders are literally sacrificing themselves as a compassionate gift to help redeem others from their sins. This is why they are called ambassadors of Christ, doing what He would do if He were here.
As stated earlier, priesthood holders are "ministers of Christ." The word "minister" means "to attend to the needs of others." When someone is sick, they go to a doctor who then ministers to their physical ailments and this is exactly what a minister of Christ does for people's spiritual ailments. Although anyone can put a band aid on a person's wound just as easily as can a doctor, a doctor is required to perform that act as part of his calling while the average person is not under the same obligation.
In the same way, anyone can help a person develop or increase their faith in Christ, help them to repent, and help them to endure to the end but a priesthood holder is obligated to do those things because that is part of their priesthood responsibility. If they fail to do that then they are not fulfilling the reason why they were given the priesthood.
But this obligation doesn't pertain just to missionaries nor does it pertain strictly and exclusively to "preaching" the gospel. As we have already seen, there are five steps to salvation and the purpose of the priesthood is to help people to accomplish all five of them. When this concept is not realized, priesthood holders often do nothing more than attend their church meetings and fulfill their ward or stake callings with no thought to fulfilling their priesthood commission from the Lord.
Of course, if they aren't aware of those responsibilities then it's understandable why they are not using their priesthood as they should. This is why God commanded "Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence" (D&C 107:99).
The scriptures tell us that one of the duties of the priesthood is "to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church (D&C 20:42). We know that teaching, expounding, and baptizing are all part of doing missionary work but it is also part of the duty of every priesthood bearer as is their duty to watch over the church.
When a person who has found Christ and has been baptized but is not enduring to the end, then their salvation is not complete. And if that person has strayed from the Church then their salvation is in jeopardy. If the duty of a priesthood holder is to assist God in the salvation of His children then an active priesthood holder is obligated to reach out and help restore an inactive member back to activity "in the spirit of meekness" (see Galatians 6:1). Therefore, reactivation is a priesthood duty incumbent on all priesthood holders.
But reactivation is like going after a horse that has already left the barn. If enduring to the end is necessary for salvation then helping people remain faithful so they don't drift away from the Church is also a duty of the priesthood. This is the reason why the priesthood presides and watches over the auxiliaries of the Church such as the Relief Society, Sunday School, Young Men/Young Women's program, and Primary. This is also the purpose of all the priesthood quorums.
The scriptures also instruct priesthood holders to "visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties" (D&C 20:47). We commonly refer to this as Home Teaching. In the LDS Church all active priesthood holders are assigned a number of families they are to visit at least once each month. However, generally speaking, the number of priesthood holders who actually fulfill this duty is not nearly as high as it should be.
When an assigned family is strong in their faith there may not be much harm done if they are not visited each and every month, but for families whose faith in not strong it is critical that their Home Teacher watch over and strengthen them lest they fall into temptation (see D&C 20:53).
But all the programs of the Church are designed with one goal in mind which is to help families be strong because it is the family unit that endures forever and which is essential to exaltation. Therefore, husbands who are priesthood holders have a special obligation to watch over their household and see to it that every member is living the gospel. This would include teaching, expounding, and watching over every family member, visiting them on a personal level and encouraging them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all their spiritual duties. This is why family prayer and family scripture study is vitally important. To assist in this effort the Church has established the Family Home Evening program that's designed to help fathers and mothers teach the gospel in a way that will help their children receive salvation.
It's often been said that actions speak louder than words and children certainly are quick to notice the difference between what their parents tell them and what they see their parents doing. There is no question that the example set by someone living the principles of the gospel creates a great impression but example alone is not sufficient.
Children must also be taught by word as well as by deed. When a child sees someone behaving a certain way they often imitate that behavior but they don't understand why they are doing it and the "why" is just as important to know as the "how." Therefore, a priesthood father has the responsibility of making sure their children understand the gospel and are not just memorizing certain sayings or scriptures.
A child was once asked to recite the Lord's prayer and they said, "Our Father who is in heaven, Howard be thy name… forgive us our trash passes as we forgive those who passed trash against us." While we may chuckle at this, what it illustrates is that too often people assume that children understand the gospel as we do but that may not be true therefore parents have a responsibility to make sure their children have a clear understanding of gospel principles.
Teenagers especially tend to question the "why" of the gospel - why do they need to fast each month, why can't they participate in fun activities on Sunday, why do they have to wait until they're sixteen to date, why do they have to dress so "modestly" when their Christians friends wear in-style clothing with no bad consequences?
There are those outside of the LDS faith who likewise question the standards or practices of the Church and some of them are either friends of our children or adults whom our children come in contact with. If our children don't know the "why" of the gospel and their parents don't take the time to teach them how to apply the gospel principles to everyday situations, then they will not be prepared to face the spiritual challenges that will inevitably come.
And this leads to a more serious problem. Since families are composed of more than just a husband and wife, it is crucial that priesthood fathers teach their children the principles of the gospel and for Home Teachers to make sure this is happening because there is much more at stake than just one family.
There are many members of the Church who are able to trace their genealogy back to the Mormon Pioneers who trekked west from Illinois in 1846. What this indicates is that their ancestors for generations back had remained faithful to the Church.
To cite just one example, Hyrum Smith was the brother of Joseph Smith and he married Mary Fielding. Even after Hyrum was killed, Mary continued to teach the gospel to her son, Joseph F. Smith so effectively that he later became the sixth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint. But because of Mary's influence on her son Joseph, he in turn followed her example and love of the gospel by teaching it to his children.
One of the sons of Joseph F. Smith was Joseph Fielding Smith who went on to become the tenth President of the LDS Church. Later, one of Joseph Fielding Smith's daughters married a man named Bruce R. McConkie who eventually became an apostle in the LDS Church. Another son of Joseph F. Smith was Hyrum Mack Smith whose grandson is M. Russell Ballard, who likewise became an apostle. This is a testament to how effective teaching children the gospel can be in influencing generations upon generations of people. But the same can be just as true in reverse.
There are countless stories of parents who joined the church along with their children but then failed to teach their children to live the gospel principles. As a result, these children grew up with no commitment to Christ or to His Church. Later, when they became married and had children, those children will grow up knowing nothing about God's plan of salvation for them.
They, in turn, will grow up, get married and have children of their own who will likewise grow up knowing nothing about the true gospel of Jesus Christ. What we see is that, because one set of parents who accepted Christ but didn't remain faithful to His commandments, generations of children will walk in ignorance and outside the bounds of salvation.
What would make this situation even more tragic is if such a father held the priesthood. Rather than using his priesthood to bring about the salvation of those in his own household, whom he should have the greatest concern and love for, he would be responsible for leaving generations of his posterity without the blessing of the gospel in their lives.
Although it is true that women, and especially mothers, play a significant role in shaping the lives of their children as well as others outside of their household, the Lord places the burden of responsibility for the salvation of man on those who have been given the priesthood. While a woman will certainly be greatly blessed for her efforts in helping to save souls, it is the priesthood holder whom God will hold accountable for his stewardship in the use of his priesthood.
However, just because the husband presides in the home, that doesn't mean he has to do all the work. In the beginning Eve was given to Adam as a companion to work alongside of him, sharing in his duties. It's certain that there were things that Eve was better at doing than was Adam yet he was nonetheless responsible for insuring that the work got done. In the same way, the priesthood holder in the home is responsible for making sure that the gospel is being adequately taught and followed among the members of his own family even though it may be the mother who is more effective in performing that duty.
And we see this same pattern being followed within the Wards, Branches, and Stakes of the Church. Although it is the women who manage and tend to the operation of the Relief Society auxiliary, it is the priesthood who presides over it and insures that the spiritual needs of the sisters are being meet. The reason why the priesthood must preside, even when all the work is being done by the women, is because the priesthood is given for the purpose of assisting God in His efforts to save His children.
However, there is yet another aspect of salvation that priesthood holders are responsible for performing. Just as the temporal body is closely tied to and interconnected with the spirit - what affects one affects the other - , so too is temporal salvation closely tied to and interconnected with spiritual salvation. When a person is sick, hungry, having emotional, financial, or mental difficulties, or is beset with problems, these can all affect their spiritual well-being.
The reason why Jesus spent so much time healing the sick, caring for the poor, relieving suffering, and comforting the weary is because these are just as important to the salvation of man as is having faith in Christ, repenting, and being baptized. Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (11:29). The purpose of the gospel is to relieve suffering, both temporal and spiritual. Therefore, anything that relieves temporal suffering and makes one's yoke easier to bear is also part of the duties of the priesthood.
This is why the elders give blessing to the sick, why fathers give blessings to their children and why Stake Patriarchs give patriarchal blessings. This is why God has given us the Word of Wisdom, why we give fast offerings, and what part of our tithing goes for. This is why the Church has Bishop Storehouses, granaries, and welfare farms and why the Church provides so much humanitarian assistance to people all over the world.
While these acts of charity and compassion are not "saving ordinances" necessary for inheriting the kingdom of God, they nevertheless provide aid, comfort, and temporal salvation to those in need. The Plan of Salvation has also been called the Plan of Happiness and when priesthood holders can bring happiness to people through the gospel, they are fulfilling their commission from God and are truly acting as ambassadors of Christ.
Whether it is performing the outward saving ordinances of the gospel, or teaching, expounding, and exhorting the gospel message, attending to the temporal needs of others, or merely watching, overseeing, and ensuring that all aspects pertaining to the salvation of man are being properly and adequately administered, these are all the duties pertaining to the priesthood.