In the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants we read, "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... No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long suffering, by gentleness, by meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness and pure knowledge."
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we often talk about the "power of the priesthood" and most often this phrase is used in connection with the giving of blessings, especially the blessing of healing. It is common for members of the Church to bear their testimony about the power of the priesthood because someone they loved was healed as a result of two people, holding the priesthood, giving them a blessing.
However, healing the sick is not unique to Mormons. Similar reports of people being healed are heard in many other Christian Churches. The difference is, they were healed without the use of the "power of the priesthood".
In most Christian churches, people pray to God for someone to be healed and there are many stories of God answering their prayers. In cases like this no one was there to exercise their priesthood power yet the healing still occurred. In the Christian Science faith, they believe that all illnesses are a result of incorrect thinking - thinking that is out of harmony with the laws of God. Therefore, they believe that to heal one's self all a person has to do is correct they're improper thoughts and the illness will disappear. Although, people of other faiths might have difficulty accepting such a concept yet many Christian Scientists have given testimonials of the power of this type of healing. It obviously works for them.
In the New Age movement and many of the Eastern, non-Christian faiths believe that healing comes from an inner power. Through meditation and other techniques, it is believed that we can tap into a divine energy source and, by so doing, heal ourselves. Once more there are testimonials given by people who have been healed by this method.
Then there are people who are healed by doctors through advances in medical science. In addition to this there are homeopathic remedies using the healing power found in plants, herbs and other natural sources and again there are numerous testimonials to the effectiveness of such methods.
And then there is the viewpoint that all healing is self-healing, brought about through the power of faith alone. According to this belief a person is healed by the faith of the person holding the priesthood or the faith of the person receiving the blessing, or the faith of the love ones of those to whom the blessing is given, that causes the healing. As such, it is faith - anyone's faith - that does the healing, not the priesthood.
Many doctors have given testimonials to this type of power. Patients who should have died by all medical standards have lived and recuperated because they had the "will" to live. Conversely, there are stories told of patients who have died for no apparent reason except they gave up on life.
When we define the power of the priesthood mostly in terms of healing the sick or other such miracles we tend to lose sight of its true significance. While the priesthood does have the power to heal, that's only a side benefit, and a very small one at that.
Then what exactly is the power of the priesthood?
In the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants we read in verse 36 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. "
According to this scripture the priesthood has the ability to control the powers of heaven and the way those powers are controlled is by being able to issue commands and have those commands obeyed. When Jesus calmed the stormy sea, or raised the dead, or cured a withered hand He was issuing commands and those commands were indeed obeyed. And the reason why they were obeyed was because of Christ's righteousness. Were He not righteous, the powers of heaven would not have obeyed His word. When we use the priesthood to heal the sick, we too are issuing a command and it is our righteousness that gives our words power.
Other methods of healing rely on us obeying the laws of nature. What makes a priesthood blessing different is that a priesthood holder has the right order a person to be healed. This is what we refer to as the authority of the priesthood. And when a person is righteous then nature obeys the priesthood. This is what gives the priesthood its power.
There is a distinct difference between the "authority" of the priesthood and its "power." For example, anyone can issue commands but if they have no authority or right to make those demands then no one will act upon them. Yet, just because someone has the right to give orders doesn't necessarily mean they will be obeyed. Therefore, a person needs both the authority to command and the power to enforce those commands because if they can't enforce the issuance of their commands then there's not much value to their authority.
The "authority" of the priesthood is conferred on us by someone who is authorized to give us the right to act in the name of God but where does the power of the priesthood come from? The Lord explained it comes "only upon the principles of righteousness." In other words, it is our righteousness that gives power to our priesthood.
Before we look at why this happens we need to understand what power is. In the scripture just quoted the Lord made an interesting statement when He said that "no power or influence can or ought to be maintained [simply] by virtue of the priesthood." What many people don't think about is that the ability to influence others is power and the more we can exercise our influence upon others the more power we have.
Another word for influence is "persuasion" and the Lord explain that the way we persuade others is by using such principles of righteousness as being long suffering, gentle, meek, kind, and showing unfeigned love. Since it is our righteousness that gives power to our ability to influence others then when we act in an unrighteous manner we lose our power of influence.
Too many people in authority make the mistake of demanding obedience from others but this type of leadership almost inevitably fails. The reason why we obey God is not out of fear, but out of love and respect. If we didn't respect God, regardless of His threats of retaliation, we would not be so willing to obey Him. The reason why we do obey Him is because we love Him and the reason we love Him is because of His righteousness. And this is the very reason why the elements of nature obey His word. If He wasn't righteous they would refuse to obey His commands. In that case His priesthood wouldn't work.
The Lord verified this when He explained "That [the authority of the priesthood] may 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)
Unrighteous acts diminish our power of influence while righteous behavior increases it. That is why only the righteous are able to exercise their priesthood effectively. It has often been said that those who hold the Melchizedek priesthood hold the same priesthood as Christ. While that is true, that doesn't mean our priesthood has the same power as His. In comparison our priesthood is very limited in power mostly because our righteousness is far inferior to His.
Yet, as stated before, even though a person can exercise tremendous influence, if they have no authority or right to exert their influence their power has limited value. It is when a person has both the authority to issue commands and the ability to enforce those commands through their influence that makes them truly powerful. This is why the Lord said that the "rights of the priesthood" are directly connected to controlling the powers of heaven. One without the other makes them both ineffective.
For example, in the United States, when someone runs for election to become our president, they vigorously campaign to influence people's thoughts and actions. During this time they may be able to sway people to vote for them but they have no authority to implement the promises they make. It isn't until they become President of the United States that they then have the right to implement the things they want to do.
On the other hand, there have been some presidents who have been very unpopular and, even though they have the right to issue orders, the public at large has not been favorably influenced to accept them. In fact, in some cases, public pressure has even prevented presidents from enacting some of the things they want to do. When such a president seeks to run for reelection, they are often voted out of office because the public no longer is influenced by what they say.
What makes this illustration so appropriate is that we believe we will someday becomes kings and priest to rule with Christ (Revelations 5:10). By definition, a king is someone who rules over others, thus the main purpose of the priesthood is to have the right and power to be a ruler in the kingdom of God.
But the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declares that they are the kingdom of God here on earth, with Jesus Christ personally supervising and directing its affairs through revelation. Yet, all of the leadership positions in the LDS Church require the priesthood. In other words, someone cannot rule or preside over others in Christ's Church unless they hold the priesthood.
In the LDS Church, those who preside hold what are call "keys." Although all priesthood holders have been given the authority or right to act in God's name, none can preside as a bishop or stake president or serve in any other leadership position unless they have been given the "keys" to do so. It is these keys that gives a person the right to preside over a specific area of responsibility.
It has been said that the priesthood administers the ordinances of salvation, such as baptism, giving the gift of the Holy Ghost, administering the sacrament, etc. but by far, the priesthood is used much more frequently for presiding over others than it is used for all the ordinances combined. However, while someone may have the right to preside, their power or influence over others comes from properly using the principles of righteousness. And the greater their righteousness the greater influence or power they will have. (For a more in-depth look at this subject read Leading People to Christ")
Interestingly, no keys are needed to perform the ordinances of salvation, except one. That means anyone holding the Melchezedek priesthood has the right or authority to perform any of the ordinances, yet keys are necessary to preside. Since Jesus presides over His Church through earthly men and He holds the priesthood (Hebrews 5:10) it seems clear that the main purpose of the priesthood is to lead and direct others.
In the temples of the Lord, we are given the promise that if we remain true and faithful to Christ the day will come when we will receive all that God has, which includes receiving the fullness of the priesthood thereby allowing us to exercise our priesthood to the same extent as God. The Lord explained that when that happens, "...then shall they be gods, because they have all power " (D&C 132:20, emphasis added). But for that to happen we must become as righteous as Christ.
There are those who believe that as long as they have been sealed in the temple and live a fairly good life here on earth, then when we are resurrected, they will automatically become exalted beings and immediately become like God, however, that may be a false assumption.
As members of the Church, we believe in the principle of eternal progression. This means that progressing, or improving in our spirituality, is an eternal process. We began our spiritual journey to perfection when we were born as spirit offspring of God and we have the opportunity to continue progressing to become like Christ while here on earth. And when we die, our spirits will still have the opportunity to continue progressing towards perfection if we so desire. However, when the resurrection comes not everyone will have become perfect by then therefore it is certain that even after the resurrection we will have the opportunity to continue progressing.
At the time of the resurrection all of us will inherit one of three kingdoms of heaven - either the celestial, terrestrial, or telestial. Although there is no possibility of progressing from one kingdom to another yet, within each of these kingdoms we can continue to progress spiritually. The difference is that in the Terrestrial kingdom the avenues for progression are less than in the Celestial, while the avenues for progression in the Telestial are fewer still.
We can illustrate this concept by comparing these kingdoms to a community college, a junior college, and a University. In a University there are a great number of courses and subjects in which one can get an education. A junior college offers far fewer courses, while a community college offers very limited subjects. Yet, within each of those centers of education a person can learn much about the subjects being offered.
The Celestial kingdom is like a University and one of the avenues for progression that is available there, that is not available in the other two kingdoms, is to inherit all that God has and become like Him. The Lord has informed us that, "In the Celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood, meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. And if he does not, he cannot attain it." (D&C 131:1) Only those who have been sealed to one another as husband and wife have the opportunity to progress towards the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom while all others cannot progress beyond being ministering servants (D&C 132:16-17).
Yet, just because someone has been sealed to a spouse doesn't mean they have progressed in righteousness to where they can obtain the full power of the priesthood. If they have not achieved perfection by the time of the resurrection then logic dictates that they must continue their spiritual progression until they finally reach the same level of righteousness as God our Father. It is then that they can become like Him and can receive all that He has, including the fullness of the power of the priesthood. (For a more in-depth look at this subject read The Highest Degree of Heaven
Since this life is part of our effort to become like God then it behooves us to progress in our spirituality as quickly as possible. Becoming a member of the Church, or having been sealed as husband and wife, or even holding a current temple recommend is not the end of our progression to become like God but are only small steps in a very long journey. In order to have the full power of the priesthood we have to develop the principles of righteousness in our life to the point where we begin to think and act as our Father in Heaven does and the longer it takes us to do that, the longer it will take for us to inherit all that our Father has.
Some have already completed that journey. The Lord has told us that "Abraham... abode my law; as Isaac also and Jacob did none other things than that which they were commanded; and because they did none other things than they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones and are not angels but are gods." (D&C 132:37). These three patriarchs were so righteous in this life that they have already been able to receive the fullness of the priesthood which is what constitutes being a god.
The full power of the priesthood doesn't come simply to those who have been ordained to the priesthood nor is it given as a gift to those who have faithfully endured the hardships of earth life. It comes from learning how to be righteous. It is when we have gained the skills necessary to use the powers of heaven in righteousness that we will then be able to enjoy the full power of the priesthood.